NIEHS opens doors for area teachers
By Kelly Lenox
On the morning of July 6, an energetic group of North Carolina public school teachers arrived at NIEHS for the two-week Science, Teachers, and Research Summer (STaRS) Institute.
Building on last year’s expansion (see story), the nine teachers took part in hands-on laboratory research, science talks, facility tours, and discussion sessions. Huei-Chen Lao, K-12 science education and outreach coordinator for the NIEHS Office of Scientific Education and Diversity (OSED), coordinated the program.
Calling on all corners of the institute
The number of staff who volunteered to work with the participants demonstrates the widespread support STaRS has across the institute. “This year, we had 36 volunteers,” Lao said, “from postdocs and contractors, on up to lead researchers and the director. And some are already signing up for next year.”
That breadth was on display during the “Ask a Scientist” panel discussion, where five scientists representing a variety of the jobs performed at NIEHS explained their work and answered questions.
“Our target population is first-generation college students,” said John Eaton, who teaches at Wake Early College of Heath and Sciences. “[Now] I can demonstrate that careers in the health sciences extend beyond the walls of the hospital.”
The panel was also attended by another group of teachers, who spent the day at the institute as part of the SummerSTEM workshop organized by WakeEd Partnership (see text box).
Understanding the whole pipeline
This year, Lao added a visit to nearby Biogen to the schedule. Visiting the pharmaceutical company gave participants another perspective on biomedical research.
“We are able to take all of the pieces of the biotech product pipeline and put them together, from basic research to what happens in a major pharmaceutical company,” said Mariel Barker Sellers, from East Columbus High School in Columbus County. “We will be able to present it to our students much more effectively.”
“It was the ideal classroom for any teacher. The set up they have there is fantastic,” said Anna Densmore, a teacher at Washington High School in Beaufort County. Referring to their lab work at Biogen, she added, “It will be the perfect introduction to bacterial transformation.”
From labs to classrooms to careers
Presented in cooperation with North Carolina New Schools (NCNS), the professional development opportunity aims to enhance high school science teachers’ understanding of basic biomedical research. The teachers created lesson plans and classroom projects based on what they learned and presented them on the last day, demonstrating how they will translate their experiences into practice.
“The real world exposure to different types of issues, equipment, processes — all the things they bring back to the classroom will enhance their students’ understanding,” said Jason Kessler, community development coordinator for NCNS.
Broadening students’ understanding is one outcome that Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of OSED, had hoped for. “Science education is built into our strategic plan,” she said while welcoming the teachers on their first day. “Enhancing the teaching of environmental health sciences — goal eight — is why you are here.”
Reid also referred to goal nine, which focuses on diversity and developing a well-trained cadre of scientists. “Diversity is not just racial and ethnic,” she said, “but also [includes] a diversity of sciences, so that we can ask more of the right questions [in our research].”
Partnership with Wake County
On July 15 and 16, NIEHS welcomed 24 teachers from Wake County, North Carolina, to the institute. The teachers were part of the WakeEd Partnership SummerSTEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program, which coordinated immersion experiences for teachers. Six local STEM-related institutions were included year, including NIEHS, Red Hat, SAS, Biogen, LORD Corporation, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Two groups of about a dozen teachers each came for a full day. They learned about mass spectrometry from Jason Williams, Ph.D., and visited the NIEHS Fluorescence Microscopy and Imaging Center, where Jeff Tucker explained the power of the tool for biological research. The groups toured other areas of the institute and heard talks, ranging from humane treatment of research animals to the Ask a Scientist session, which exposed them to the broad range of roles performed by institute scientists.
“SummerSTEM exists to enrich each educator’s understanding of the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in careers involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM),” read the WakeEd press release.
“By working with teachers, we can have a greater impact on more students,” Lao said. “We’re already looking forward to next year.”